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How to Get YOUR Students Transcribing Melodies BY EAR by The End of Grade 3 (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a 2 part series

By the end of grade 3, I want my students writing down diatonic melodies as they hear them, with rhythm and pitch, written on a 5 line staff with clefs, key signatures, and time signatures. Sounds a bit crazy seeing as most of us never really learned how to write down a melody by ear until university. But I assure you, they can do it. The best part is, they learn to understand it. After all, being able to write down words a teacher says is the same as being able to write down a melody a teacher sings or plays, so why not work toward that? If you follow these steps, the goal is that students will be involved in listening, singing, signing, and writing every music class. I am not talking about drilling it every class. I am talking about experiencing it through singing games, signing games, and writing activities. Some of the writing activities will be sitting down and practicing but that is part of it and the actual writing component would only be 5 to 12 minutes of your class.

How to get YOUR students

First, I will provide you with a list of games, resources, activities, and materials for making this happen:


  1. Singing Games Children Love Volume 1 by Denise Gagne – This is a great book. The games are described and are super simple to sing. They help to reinforce many common intervals.

  2. I have photocopies of lots of pentatonic and diatonic songs that I borrowed from a colleague.

Games I use from these books and various other resources. Any time we sing, they must use the hand signs when they can. This is important for them to remember the pitch and how far they are apart or how high or low the sound is. Signing helps them to internalize the pitches and really understand it on a deeper level.

  1. Here We Sit (s,m) – Students sing: Here we sit, in a ring, close your eyes and now we sing, One of us will go and hide, guess who made that space so wide. (ssm ssm|ssmmssm |ssmmssm |mmmmmsm). Just as the song says, students sit in a circle and close their eyes and one person goes to hide while they sing. After, they open their eyes and they have to guess who is missing. They catch on pretty quick so I change it to 2 or sometimes 3 and 4 people going to hide. They have to guess all of them if they venture a guess.

  2. A Tisket, A Tasket (s,m,l) – Classic game. Students sing: A Tis-ket, A Tas-ket, a green and yell-ow bas-ket, I wrote a let-ter to my mom and on the way I dropped it. Then, students chant: T-I-M-E Time to drop it (repeat) (s|s mls mm|ssmls mm|ssmmssmm|ssmls m) This is a mix of Duck, Duck, Goose and Musical Chairs. One student is on the outside of the circle and walks around it with a basket while the class sings. When we get to the chant section, they have to choose a person to put the basket behind. That person they choose must get up and walk in the opposite direction to try and get their spot back before the person who is ‘it’ gets it. If a chosen student doesn’t get their spot back, they are then ‘it.’

  3. Doggie, Doggie (s,m,l) – A guessing game and a great way to get students singing on their own. Students sing: Dog-gie, Dog-gie, where’s your bone, some-one stole it from your home (ssmmssm |ssmlssm). Then a student in the middle asks: Who has my bo-ne (s mls m). The student who took it responds with: I have your bo-ne (s mls m). This game is played in a circle, one person is selected to be the Doggie in the middle and another is chosen to take and hide the bone behind them. The Doggie in the middle keeps their eyes closed while they ask who has the bone then they listen for the response from the burglar.

  4. Pass the Stick (s,m,d) – They love this incredibly simple game. Students sing: Pass the stick a-round the room, if it drops you lose your turn, or when we end this sill-y tune (ssmmddd |ssmmdddd|ssmmddd ). They are in a circle and pass the stick around the circle while they sing. If someone drops it or they have the stick when the song is over, they are out! Those who are out will form their own circle and continue playing with a new stick. Sometimes I have them form a third circle if they are sent out of the second one. Sometimes I add a cymbal crash to the song. If a student has the stick when the cymbal crashes, they are out.

  5. Mouse, Mousie (s,m,d) – Students sing: Mouse, Mous-ie, lit-tle mous-ie, hur-ry hur-ry do, or the kit-ty in the hous-ie will be chas-ing you (s mdssmd|s d ddd |ssmdssmd|s d ddd ). Students are in a circle and holding a parachute around its edges (I borrow one from the phys ed department) We choose one person to be the mousie and one to be the kitty, then we sing the song. While we sing, we wiggle the parachute and at the end we build a house by shooting the parachute over our heads to build the house. Keep holding on! At that time, on their hands and knees, the kitty chases the mousie inside the house. They can not leave the house and the round is over when the mousie is caught or when the parachute touches their heads. Whichever comes first.

  6. Teddy Bear (s,m,l,d,r) – In a circle students sing: Ted-dy bear, Ted-dy bear, turn a-ro-und, Ted-dy bear, Ted-dy bear, touch the ground. Ted-dy bear, Ted-dy bear show your sho-oes, Ted-dy bear, Ted-dy bear, that will do (alternate version is: how old are you) (ssm ssm s l s m ssm ssm s m r  , ssm ssm s l s m ssm ssm s m d) Students stand in a circle and do the actions as they are presented in the song. There is also a skipping rope version where we have a contest to see who can go through the entire song without missing.

  7. Pick, You Must Wander (d,r,m,s,l) – Students sing: Pick, you must wan-der, wan-der, wan-der, pick you must wan-der ev-ry where. Bright eyes will find you, sharp eyes will find you, Pick you must wan-der ev-ry where (d drm s |r s m d |d drm s |r s d |l lls d |l lls d |d drm s |r s d   ) Students sit in a circle, one is in the middle. The person in the middle closes their eyes while those in the circle pass the pick around the circle. When we finish singing the song, the person with the pick hides it in their hand and everyone makes two fists with their palms down to make it look like they might have the pick too. The person in the middle gets 3 guesses to get it right. The person with the pick gets to be the next person in the middle.

Non-singing music game:

  1. Body Signing Game – This game helps to reinforce the distance between pitches and further internalize the sound of the pitches. Instead of using hand signs, they use parts of their body to literally embody the pitch:

  2. Do = Toes

  3. Re = Knees

  4. Mi = Hips

  5. Fa = Stomach

  6. Sol = Shoulders

  7. La = Head

  8. Ti = Hand sign for ‘ti’ just over head.